I’ve been playing video games for almost thirty years. I will spare you my pedigree, as it is cliche to list the myriad platforms and wistful recollections of games from 25 years ago. The only real benefit that comes from a long history of gaming is perspective, a perspective that allows me, as long as nostalgia is recognized and expunged, to come to the conclusion that shitty games have always existed and truly innovative ideas are few and far-between.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane and analyze some of the popular and/or groundbreaking games of yesteryear.
The year: 1983.
The place: K-Mart- 59 and Beechnut, Houston TX
The game: Dragon’s Lair
In this antiquated time, arcade games were treated like the Holy Grail, defended by a group of guys that were a greasier, smellier version of the Knights Templar. If you wanted to play, and being 5 years old and already completely obsessed with all things video game, you had to brave a gauntlet of patchy facial hair and bad acne if you wanted to step up to the controls.
Watching these guys pump quarter after quarter into the game only to be instantly roasted by a dragon or reduced to a skeleton by acid was intoxicating. The precise movements of the controls, the pinpoint button presses, the celebration of a successful traversal of a disintegrating rope bridge; it was magical and I desperately wanted to be one of the exalted few that were able to rescue Princess Daphne.
Underneath these memories of an easily impressionable child is the fact that Dragon’s Lair was a terrible game. Aside from the graphics, which were so different from anything anyone had ever seen, the game was terrible. The one-wrong-move-and-you’re-dead gameplay, the constant loading of new scenes, and the fact that the game cost 50 cents coalesced into a rage-inducing experience that still resonates today.
The year: 1987
The place: The Gold Mine-Sharpstown Mall, Houston TX
The game:Street Fighter
Despite the success of Street Fighter II and its variants, the original game was pretty bad. The game cabinet was huge and it had a joystick and two big ass buttons. The theory was that the force you pressed the buttons with would translate to either a light, strong, or fierce attack. I recall this game being serviced constantly by the neckbearded dude that worked in the arcade because legions of kids with no idea what to do would hammer these cheap rubber pads with all their strength in order to make their dude ATTACK HARDER!
What a shitty game.
The year: 1990
The place: my friend’s bedroom-Houston, TX
The game: Bonk’s Adventure
I had a friend that was hopelessly spoiled. He owned every game system, every game, and every peripheral. When he told me that his parents bought him a TurboGrafx 16, I freaked out. Being a huge nerd, I was insanely jealous and couldn’t wait to try out 16 BIT GAMING. Here’s a synopsis of Bonk’s Adventure, the game that shipped with the system and got us all hot and nerdy:
The game’s protagonist is Bonk, a strong caveboy who battles anthropomorphic dinosaurs and other prehistoric themed enemies. Bonk’s mission is to rescue Princess Za (a small pink Pleisiosaur-type reptile) who has been kidnapped by the evil King Drool (a large, green, Tyrannosaurus-type dinosaur)
Jesus, and to think I was so excited I peed on myself over this shit.
The year: 1993
The place: my sweaty dorkroom-Houston, TX
The game: Mortal Kombat
The amount of time and money I spent playing the original Mortal Kombat at the arcades can not be understated; I was a god among ants. The amount of hearts pulled out, heads ripped off, heads exploded, and nuts punched as my main man Johnny Cage numbered in the millions, and the kids I sent home to momma after shitting on their faces chaining Raiden’s flying move was just as high.
Despite all the glory I draped myself in at the arcade, having MK to play at home on my own TV was too good to be true. I owned both Genesis and SNES, as did all true nerds of the day. In the halcyon days of 1993, the release of MK was met with some controversy. Nintendo caved to the whiners and took out all the shit that made Mortal Kombat different, you know, the gore and the copious amounts of blood. The SNES version of MK instead had “sweat” fly off of your character when he got uppercutted out of the galaxy and tame “fatalities”.
The Genesis version retained all the gore and fatalities, but the graphics and sound were shit compared to the SNES version.
I bought both games and played the fuck out of the SNES version because even without all the gore, SNES’s version played better, had better graphics & sound, and didn’t make me feel like I was playing a stripped-down version of the game even though it didn’t have the elements that made the series what it is! Talk about a paradox, and thanks Tipper Gore & friends for making 15 year old me spend a hundred dollars to be not be able to play the game I wanted to. Yes, I’m still pissed about it.
The year: 1996
The place: Everywhere
The game: Too many to list
1996 was a very significant year for video games. Arcade games were waning for years while consoles and PC titles were coming on strong. Many franchises that still exist today were born in this year, such as:
Duke Nukem 3d
All successful series, except for Duke Nukem. Looking back, it seems like the modern era of gaming started around this time. And for this, I weep because nearly every big-release game since 1996 until now has been exactly the same. You can pick any of the games I listed, update their graphics and add in some achievements or some shit and have a game produced in 2012.
The mainstreaming of gaming has become detrimental to the hobby, as big studios buy out the little guys (I’m looking at you Westwood Studios) and innovators are co-opted by corporate philosophies of big profits and shitty production values. If you look at the “big games” recently released, you can see that the WalMartization of gaming is complete.
Oh shit, it is August 28th. Guild Wars 2 releases today, I have to run to the store and buy my copy and hope, as I have for 25 years, that history doesn’t repeat itself.